S3 and S4 Camp 2023-24

We started this year as we intended, to continue with two fantastic year group residentials where we focus on developing our students as well-rounded young people, living and experiencing life together.  The design of the S3 and S4 camps have changed slightly over the last few years, honing in on those important personal development stepping stones that being away from home and school can allow us to focus on.  Here are some of the highlights from this year.

S3 Camp

A two day adventure to bond the year group into Middle School and allow them a chance to explore their subjects through a new lens.  The weather was challenging this year but we trusted in the Met Office and were rewarded with a dry second half of the trip, much appreciated by all.  This group of students put on a brave face for the first day’s hike because the weather was tough, but true to Birkdale style they had smiles on their faces and carried on through the horizontal rain, top effort!

On arrival at North Lees campsite, the students set up tents and began cooking an evening meal.  It can sometimes be taken for granted, but often this can be their first communal cooking experience and it is always a privilege to help the students find their way.  One of the principles of these trips away is to prepare students for life ‘beyond Birkdale’.  Having a safe place to experience how other people function and make mistakes without judgement allows our students to grow.

Whilst many arrived after the hike suggesting they were too tired to carry on, they were full of energy after they had eaten, so we took them on a night hike, towards Stanage Edge.  Waiting for the twilight to fade and darkness to set in is a wonderful experience.  We looped around to North Lees Hall, where Mrs Hidden was able to talk to them, reflect on their day and think about how fortunate they were to be stood in such an amazing place.

The second day was full of activities and more importantly, dry!  A range of Birkdale teaching staff came out to set up educational activities that they feel passionate about.  Some of these activities are the same as previous years and others have changed with new staff joining in.  Mr Douglas, a new maths teacher at Birkdale, delivered a great carbon calculation activity to a section of woodland on their route.  Mr Lidbury’s haiku poetry activity was very popular, many students saying this activity sparked their interest in poetry for the first time.  Of course Mrs Magenty brought back her silent disco, to Stanage plantation, where the students put on headphones and partied away to a selection of Mrs Magenty’s favourite tunes.

Mr Cook showed the power of water pressure, Mr Clark delivered his geological skills, Mrs Nelson-Piercy focused on some emergency first aid, and Mr Parsons showed students the possibility of exercise in any place and much more.  Mrs Hidden had the pick of the locations with her reflection activity on top of Stanage Edge, which is definitely one of the best classrooms I could imagine and we are always amazed each year at how well the students manage to paint Stanage Edge; the full picture is on display in the Heeley Hall, please ask to see it next time you are in.

We were extremely proud of the S3’s this year and this email from a member of the general public, camping at North Lees campsite on the same evening, was a brilliant end to a great trip.

Dear Mr. Harris,

I have been visiting North Lees campsite in Hathersage for about thirty years to climb on the local crags and edges and never felt compelled to email anyone before regarding the behaviour and conduct of a group.

I spoke to three of the teachers that were supervising the year 9’s cooking. All appeared patient and dedicated and were clearly running a well organised and tight ship.

I am not involved in education but having been an outdoor leader many years ago and taking a group camping at the same campsite I recognise the challenges this can present and the hard work that it entails.

Above all the pupils were respectful of others and whilst I only spoke to a few that had been camping near to me they were a credit to your school being polite and courteous, but this was the impression I had in general of the whole group and I fed this back to the campsite warden as well.

S4 Camp

It would seem like a very hard act to follow after such a glowing report from a member of the public, but our S4 students are Birkdalian’s after all and they were exceptional at this year’s S4 Camp.  There were many changes this year, location, duration and activities, but this didn’t phase them.  We changed the location to Thornbridge Outdoors in the Peak District National Park, not only reducing travel but also taking advantage of our own ‘backyard’.  The happy coincidence is that some students recognised Thornbridge from trips they must have been on in early years.  It is a well- established centre and because of this the quality of instruction was superb, something that many of the students commented on.  I would have to agree and after a few hours down a cave with Thornbridge instructors I realised how much I need to learn about subterranean geology.

This year we re-designed the nature of the activities, working closely with Thornbridge Outdoors to provide a more mature developmental experience.  Bonding the excitement and challenge of some outdoor activities, caving, canoeing and high ropes, for example, alongside a service day.  The overall experience aims to not only inspire our students and provide opportunities to push boundaries but to develop life skills that will set them up for future lives beyond Birkdale.

During the service day students had to work alongside Birkdale staff to cook, clean and cater for the whole group.  Preparing food for 70 people is no easy feat!  They did it with superb spirit.  We were so encouraged to see the engagement with this activity, it is a new element to the S4 Camp, which we believe is hugely important to our students’ development and this was reciprocated by the students.  Several commented that they understood the reasoning, felt that they had learnt a lot and gained a new perspective on the efforts that go into looking after others.  There was a real sense of wholesome satisfaction from each of the service teams at the end of their shifts.

We are fortunate at Birkdale to have such a dedicated group of staff, experienced and talented.  Trialling new ideas, seen in the S4 Camp, is not an easy task but making it such a success takes the extra effort Birkdale is known for.

A huge thanks to the following staff for making this happen:

S3 Camp: Mr Cook, Mrs Hidden, Mr Clark, Mrs Nelson Piercy, Mrs Magenty, Mr Parsons, Mr Douglas, Mr Morton, Mr Lidbury and Mr Herold.

S4 Camp: Mrs Hidden, Mr Morton, Mrs Nelson Piercy, Mr Farrell, Mrs Magenty and Mrs Robinson.


Mr Watchman – Head of Outdoor Education